SELAMATKAN M ALAYSIA
KONSPIRASI 2 Anwar Ibrahim
- ASIA NEWS
- FEBRUARY 9, 2010, 6:15 A.M. ET
Malaysian Court Rejects Opposition Bid to Regain Power in Key State
KUALA LUMPUR—Malaysia’s highest court Tuesday threw out an opposition attempt to reclaim political control of an important state, underscoring the judiciary’s pivotal role in determining the balance of power in this resource-rich but divided country and providing a lift to Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Tuesday’s decision also comes at a time when the main opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, is on trial for sodomy, a crime under Malaysian law. He denies the allegations, which he says are part of a government conspiracy to discredit him—a claim the government likewise denies. Political analysts say the country’s judicial system is coming under intense scrutiny as its role in settling domestic feuds expands.
The issues involved in Tuesday’s decision were more local. Malaysia’s opposition alliance won control of tin-rich Perak state in northern Malaysia in 2008 in what was seen as a crucial victory. Perak is one of the country’s most important states, with large auto, agriculture and mining interests, and its flirtation with the opposition has greatly frustrated the country’s ruling elite.
But the state’s parliament was left in limbo in early 2009 after Malaysia’s ruling National Front coalition convinced three opposition members to switch over to its ranks—enough to give it a majority in the state legislature and to boost Mr. Najib, who in April last year took control of the national government.
The state’s sultan, an unelected local royal ruler who has limited constitutional powers, ordered the opposition-led state government of Nizar Jamaluddin to step down, and appointed a pro-National Front government to take its place.
Mr. Nizar refused to quit, saying Sultan Azlan Shah had the right to appoint but not remove a government. That prompted a long legal battle which was resolved Tuesday when Federal Court Chief Judge Arifin Zakaria said Perak’s sultan had a right to remove a government if it refuses to quit.
Several hundred supporters from both camps squared off Tuesday outside the Federal Court building in Putrajaya, Malaysia’s administrative capital, and had to be separated by riot police. Mr. Nizar condemned the result as in effect a return to absolute monarchy by expanding the powers of the sultan.
Political analysts here say Tuesday’s ruling demonstrates the significant political role Malaysia’s legal system is playing as the National Front government and its opponents butt heads more frequently.
Malaysian government officials and senior judges such as Mr. Arifin and Chief Justice Zaki Azmi say the judiciary is up to the challenge and impartial, and political and legal analysts say some courts have become increasingly independent-minded in recent years.
In December, a Kuala Lumpur High Court judge overturned a government ban on Christians using the term “Allah” as a translation for God, incensing many Muslims who say the word is reserved for Islam.
Lower courts initially ruled that the government’s takeover of the state assembly in Perak was illegal. However, that decision was overruled by Malaysia’s Appeals Court and, on Tuesday, by the Federal Court, the country’s highest court. Many analysts expect the “Allah” verdict also to be overturned on appeal.
“What this shows is that the Federal Court is under the thumb of the government and that the space for legal challenges to the government gradually is being curtailed,” said James Chin, a political science professor at the Malaysian campus of Australia’s Monash University.
International criticism of Malaysia’s justice system has increased since the trial of Mr. Anwar got under way last week. Malaysia’s deputy foreign minister, A. Kohilan Pillay, Monday warned foreign governments not to “meddle” in Mr. Anwar’s case.
The U.S. State Department has previously expressed its concern as to whether Mr. Anwar, 62 years old, will receive a fair trial, while Australian parliamentarian Michael Danby told Australia’s parliament last week that Malaysia’s legal system was being “manipulated” by Mr. Anwar’s political opponents.
Malaysia’s government and Mr. Razak, the prime minister, have denied having anything to do with the allegations against Mr. Anwar, which emerged in 2008 when a former aide accused the opposition leader of sodomizing him.
Mr. Anwar was arrested in 1998 on a similar charge after challenging the government of then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad , and convicted. He spent six years in jail before his conviction was overturned on appeal in 2004, the year after Dr. Mahathir retired.
Like this time, Mr. Anwar said the allegations made against him in 1998 were fabricated to destroy his reputation. Dr. Mahathir denies there was any conspiracy against Mr. Anwar.